'Collection Musique Française'
merits laureate honours. The range is
wide and the standards exalted. The
series mixes comparatively recent recordings
with ones from the 1950s - the dawn
of the LP. One can cut the reeking nostalgia
with a knife. Collectors of longstanding
will be delighted to encounter retrievals
of battered vinyl-bound cultural treasures
such as the present Daudet drama with
trouvailles such as élite recordings
of Ravel and Debussy and rarities by
LeFlem, Ropartz and Koechlin. Reviewing
the whole series is a project I would
What we have in this
two CD set is the abridgement of Daudet's
L'Arlésienne made for
French Decca by theatrical director
Max de Rieux. This is not therefore
for purists. The result is something
akin to a radio drama in French with
a full orchestral score woven in - a
true incidental score.
It's a tragic little
tale. Frédéri is in love
with a girl from Arles (L'Arlésienne
of the title) who is never seen in the
play. All are delighted by the betrothal.
Then a rejected lover brags to Frédéri
of his affair with the girl. Frédéri
calls it all off and falls into despair.
He has a fling with Vivette, who loves
him, then drops her and seems, to his
family, ready again to marry L'Arlésienne.
Joy is unbridled and he dances the Farandole
at the St Eloi's Eve festivities. That
night he kills himself.
The original play was
based on a short story here read by
Fernandel entitled Les Letters de
mon moulin. The Daudet play was
selected by Léon Carvalho who
also enlisted Bizet to write the stage
music. Sadly it did not turn out well.
At the premiere the
audience at the Théâtre
du Vaudeville were bored and were annoyed
by the music. Bizet had similar 'luck'
with the premiere of Carmen.
The tapes from which
these CDs have been made are in at least
fair condition. There is the occasional
rustle of background noise but mostly
the sound is well founded mono with
seemingly no hiss whatsoever.
Here the actors act
out the parts. This is not a reading
with music. Character irradiates the
spoken parts and this engagement with
the listener is emphasised by the music
which is adjusted in volume so that
it does not dominate. Be warned: there
is a great deal of dialogue and only
some with music playing 'underneath'.
Distancing effects are at their most
dramatic in A la recherche de Frédéri.
The breathless tenderness of the dialogue
between Frédéri and the
wronged Vivette is remarkable (CD1 trs.
11 -12). Sound effects such as the stridulation
of Provençal cicades can be heard
in the Balthazar-La Renaude dialogue
(CD1 trs.17-18). The last scenes are
truly moving and are played by all concerned
for every sincere drop of emotion.
The play carries on
after the end of the first disc playing
80:34 (if you count the Fernandel-read
short story) and continuing for another
16:51 on CD2.
Wolff plays the music
with massive emphasis - a monumental
pesante quality e.g. in the famous
Entr'acte - pastorale with its
colossally deliberate bell-swung dance
and its saxophone optimism (CD1 tr.
8). An almost Mahlerian carillon (CD1
tr. 16 and CD2 tr. 22) reflects similar
stressing. It is at moments like these
that one realises that the engineers
of the time were more than happy to
zoom in on individual solo lines. Perspectives
are gorgeous rather than realistic.
Tenderness is also accentuated in the
intimate almost Herrmann-diaphanous
soloistic string writing in Mélodrame
(CD2 tr. 17).
The Accord notes are
good but you should be warned that the
text of the abridgement is not printed
in the booklet. There's no difficulty
with hearing what is said so that is
not the issue. However if you wanted
the set to help you brush up your classical
French the lack of the text could be
(CD2 tr. 28) has been dragooned
in to fill the gap left by the Wolff
project and this, by the sound of things,
must surely be a more recent recording
- in fact it is, I think, in stereo.
However for thunderous resonant impact
you will go a long way to beat the Wolff
finale of the fifth tableau (CD2 tr.
With Wolff's bursting
vitality (try CD 2 trs.1-2) there are
many compensations. One is the masculine
brusqueness of the 'pipe and tabor'
Farandole to which Frédéri
is said to have danced - he must have
been going some to manage to dance at
The music-only tracks
are a pleasure and can be heard in all
their immediacy on tracks 6-28 (CD2)
without the 'distraction' of the play.
The Mélodram et chœur final
is imposingly grand and positively
trembles with majestic potency. The
choir plays a wonderful role and its
muscular grip can be sampled first in
the men then in the women in the glorious
Chœur (CD2 tr. 25). If there
is a criticism it is that some of the
music-only tracks end precipitately
with ambience snipped.
A vivid and nostalgic
retrieval and, I think, the only version
of the play with Bizet's music.